Cats and Dogs, Living Together: An Update

Spice looking at Charlie this morning.
John Scalzi

One always wonders, when one brings a new dog into a house full of cats, how the cats are going to handle the intrusion of a big, dimwitted extrovert of an animal that is a dog, particularly when it’s still a puppy and thus full of puppy energy. In our case, the answer is: All right, but the adjustment period is definitely still taking some time.

Charlie, of course, is game: She very much wants to be friends with the cats, and has done all the things dogs do when they want to be friends, including the front paw dive, the presentation of toys, and the full body “come on let’s play!” dance. This freaks out the cats a bit, because what they see is a larger animal making a lot of sudden, unpredictable moves, and they don’t like that. In more quiet moments, they will approach Charlie and even do a nose boop or two, but most of the time the cats are exuding a real “dude, what even are you” vibe, and Charlie is sad about it. She’s doing her best, you know?

Interestingly, the cat who seems to be the most willing to work with Charlie is Spice, who lets Charlie get reasonably close and sniff her up, so long as there is a human nearby. I wouldn’t say she’s super-friendly with Charlie, but of all the cats she’s the one who seems to recognize that the dog is not just an intruder but will be part of the household moving forward. Zeus is not thrilled, and Sugar actively avoids Charlie entirely.

As for Smudge, well, he appears to be having a minor existential crisis about Charlie, I think possibly because he’s used to being the major agent of chaos in the house, and then all of a sudden here’s a dog, a puppy no less, which not just chaos but big friendly chaos. It’s a lot for him to take in, apparently.

Obviously I want them all to get along, but at this point, that’s on the cats’ schedules, not ours. It will happen inevitably. In the meantime, we’ve declared the basement a Charlie-free zone, so the cats can go there to avoid the dog if they like, and indeed they do. The still miss us, however, so they do sneak up to the rest of the house. Spice is sitting on my desk as I type this, for example, pawing me occasionally to remind me to pet her.

Again, it will all be fine once everyone gets used to each other, and it does help that Charlie wants to be friends with the cats rather than feeling territorial about the house. She gets they were here first. But I’m looking forward to the first time a cat snuggles up with her. It might take a bit. But I think we’ll get there.

— JS

17 Comments on “Cats and Dogs, Living Together: An Update”

  1. When I was growing up we always had cats and dogs, but the dogs always arrived as small puppies, who got swatted by the cats a couple of times and never quite figured out when they grew bigger than the cats. They never got to snuggling phase though.

  2. We introduced a dog after the cats had eight years without one. The cats loathe the dog and attack it on sight, but the dog is all like “ohh that’s awesome, scratch my back some more”.

  3. If I recall correctly, Daisy was still living when Sugar and Spice arrived, so maybe the adjustment will be easier for them. Although Daisy was considerably more laid back than a puppy :)
    Have the cats been OK when your MIL’s dog visits? Charlie is much larger and more exuberant but at least the concept of “dog” isn’t completely alien.
    Fingers crossed everyone is happy soon.

  4. Dogs and cats have different languages, with some false cognates. This can cause some adaptation issues.

  5. One tactic I’ve had success with:
    1) permit animals on the couch
    2) turn off the heat on a cold day
    3) leave for a while

    Dog gets on couch, cats consider dog a portable warm spot suddenly worth hanging around.

    I got onto this tactic when a HVAC guy told me how they find a leak in underfloor hot water tubing. Get the building really cold, toss in a cat, close the place up, turn the heating system back on. Check back in half a day or so and the cat will be curled up on the floor over the location of the broken heating pipe.

  6. My cat who has lived alone with me for six years is surprisingly okay with my boyfriend’s dog. It helps that she is ancient so mostly just lies around, but the only hissing is if the dog gets up in her face. The dog just wants to play sometimes – she may be an old lady but is still having a great time – but nobody will ever convince the cat.

  7. Well, slow progress is better than no progress, so, yay? I mean, if there haven’t been any all-out battles at this point, the integration will likely be successful eventually. Though likely more so with some critters than with others.

    I find it interesting that Spice is the most interested (at this point) in interacting with Charlie. I remember Sugar was super bonded with Daisy, and I’d have thought she’d be more likely to make the first overtures to the new dog in the family. Though in fairness, Daisy was a more senior pup, and clearly had strong maternal instincts, so perhaps Sugar’s lack of interest in Daisy’s exuberant successor isn’t all that surprising.

    I feel for Smudge – it’s hard to be displaced as the “baby of the family.” And I don’t think he had much if any interaction with Daisy, did he? I’m not recalling the chronology exactly, but if she was still around when he joined the family, I don’t think it was for long. So he hasn’t had much if any experience with a larger and bouncier critter than he is.

    I am sure you are correct that they will all reach some level of rapprochement, though it may take a while. Good thing all the humans are both patient and loving – that will help more than anything else.

    Thanks for the update, and give the critters each a cuddle for me!

  8. We had two dogs, a white German Shepard and a big brown shaggy Newfoundlander and a cat. Strangely enough it was the cat that seems to rule the roost.
    Once we had been out biking with the dogs, an when we returned we took them of their leashes to let them run up to the house, and they must both been shortsighted in that they saw a cat lying in front of the gate and they took off full speed! You know the cartoon when you see dogs put on the brakes by putting their rear down and pushing forward with their front paws? Well that’s what happened in this case! It was Smokey the cat! It didn’t bat an eye; it just looked up at the two panting dogs, and continued to groom itself.
    He did like to snuggle up to the shaggy Newfoundlander, but not the Shepard.

  9. Our dog Lucy has been a curmudgeon since a very early age, and has very little time for the young whippersnapper cats who have invaded her house over the last few years. She has had friendships, up to and including nuzzling, with a few other cats in the neighborhood on our walks, but that’s probably because it’s on neutral ground.

  10. Sugar: It’s a canine, but it is SO not my Daisy! Fuggedaboudit!

    Spice: Sugar got to keep the last dog. Now it’s MY turn.

    And yes, there’s nothing like a brisk cold snap to put the furbags into snuggle mode with the humans and each other!

  11. I got a puppy 3 years ago, and my two cats decided to vacate the house as long as THAT DOG was in it. They’re both mild-mannered unassertive cats. So they’ve been living in the basement and outdoors since, using the cat door system. Just this spring the older cat is beginning to venture closer, as the dog is finally really grown up and able to contain himself. I do hope to have cats in the house with the dogs again.

  12. We’re in the opposite boat, with our two dogs adjusting to our now partly inside adopted stray. Everyone can manage friendly for a few minutes, then the dogs lose their minds.

  13. Harmony among the pets is nice to achieve but often impossible. Our miniature schnauzer got along with our cat (Max, who passed in 2019 of cancer) as long as Max didn’t make any sudden moves, but as soon as he jumped or ran or made any quick movement the dog took that as an invitation to take up the chase.

    Incidentally, you wrote, “… front paw dive.” This move is generally referred to as a “play bow” but any dog owner knew what you meant.

  14. I saw on your twitter a photo of Charlie “offering” a carrot. Does she actually let you have the carrot, or is it one of those show you the carrot, beg for you to throw the carrot for her, and positively NOT let you have the carrot?

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